Center Papers in 2017

Here is a retrospective list of some of the longer papers and essays that Mark and I havePen and Ink written in 2017, with links where available. A warm word of gratitude to our readers, and best wishes for the new year!

Rogan, “The Moral Economists”

9780691173009_0I don’t know too much about the subject, but the description of this new book on the history of economics from Princeton University Press caught my attention. The Moral Economists: R.H. Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E.P. Thompson, and the Critique of Capitalism, by Cambridge historian Tim Rogan, recounts the criticisms of a set of twentieth-century British scholars who argued that capitalism is morally and spiritually lacking. These scholars sought a middle ground between an empty individualism and an authoritarian socialism and looked to tradition and custom — the book description puts those words in scare quote — as guides.

It looks to be an interesting intellectual history. This isn’t meant as a criticism of the book, which I haven’t read, but an even older body of thought, one that long predates the 20th Century, also seeks to apply moral values to economics and to chart a middle path between individualism and authoritarianism, and values tradition and custom to boot: Christian teaching on law and society. It’s odd that economists continue to ignore that source of insights and try to reinvent the wheel with each new generation. But maybe we’ll come up with something better. [UPDATE: Reader Samuel Moyn writes that Rogan does indeed address Christianity in the book. I was going by the description, which doesn’t mention Christianity at all. Now the book looks even more interesting!]

Here’s the description of the book from the Princeton website:

A fresh look at how three important twentieth-century British thinkers viewed capitalism through a moral rather than material lens

What’s wrong with capitalism? Answers to that question today focus on material inequality. Led by economists and conducted in utilitarian terms, the critique of capitalism in the twenty-first century is primarily concerned with disparities in income and wealth. It was not always so. The Moral Economists reconstructs another critical tradition, developed across the twentieth century in Britain, in which material deprivation was less important than moral or spiritual desolation.

Tim Rogan focuses on three of the twentieth century’s most influential critics of capitalism—R. H. Tawney, Karl Polanyi, and E. P. Thompson. Making arguments about the relationships between economics and ethics in modernity, their works commanded wide readerships, shaped research agendas, and influenced public opinion. Rejecting the social philosophy of laissez-faire but fearing authoritarianism, these writers sought out forms of social solidarity closer than individualism admitted but freer than collectivism allowed. They discovered such solidarities while teaching economics, history, and literature to workers in the north of England and elsewhere. They wrote histories of capitalism to make these solidarities articulate. They used makeshift languages of “tradition” and “custom” to describe them until Thompson patented the idea of the “moral economy.” Their program began as a way of theorizing everything economics left out, but in challenging utilitarian orthodoxy in economics from the outside, they anticipated the work of later innovators inside economics.

Examining the moral cornerstones of a twentieth-century critique of capitalism, The Moral Economists explains why this critique fell into disuse, and how it might be reformulated for the twenty-first century.


Barton & Bibas, “Rebooting Justice”

Rebooting-Justice-310x460This is not a law-and-religion book, but it is co-written by one of the participants in our Center’s Tradition Project, Stephanos Bibas, who recently left his position at the University of Pennsylvania Law school for a seat on the Third Circuit, and it looks to be of interest to anyone concerned about our legal system and the potential for technology to improve it. Tradition doesn’t mean stagnation, and there’s no reason why traditionalists must in principle oppose new technologies. As long as those new technologies don’t displace law professors, that is. The book is Rebooting Justice: More Technology, Fewer Lawyers, and the Future of Law, co-written by Bibas and law professor Benjamin Barton (Tennessee). Here is the description from the publisher, Encounter Books:

America is a nation founded on justice and the rule of law. But our laws are too complex, and legal advice too expensive, for poor and even middle-class Americans to get help and vindicate their rights. Criminal defendants facing jail time may receive an appointed lawyer who is juggling hundreds of cases and immediately urges them to plead guilty. Civil litigants are even worse off; usually, they get no help at all navigating the maze of technical procedures and rules. The same is true of those seeking legal advice, like planning a will or negotiating an employment contract.

Rebooting Justice presents a novel response to longstanding problems. The answer is to use technology and procedural innovation to simplify and change the process itself. In the civil and criminal courts where ordinary Americans appear the most, we should streamline complex procedures and assume that parties will not have a lawyer, rather than the other way around. We need a cheaper, simpler, faster justice system to control costs. We cannot untie the Gordian knot by adding more strands of rope; we need to cut it, to simplify it.

Picard, “Sea of the Caliphs”

9780674660465-lgIn 1571, at the Battle of Lepanto, a collection of European powers led by Venice (at least that’s how I learned it, notwithstanding Chesterton’s great poem), defeated the Ottoman navy and ensured that Christian Europe, not Muslim Turkey, would control the Mediterranean Sea. A new history from Harvard University Press, Sea of the Caliphs: The Mediterranean in the Medieval Islamic World, shows that the contest between Christian and Muslim states for control of Mediterranean trade routes goes back quite far. The author is historian Christophe Picard (University of Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne). The publisher’s description follows:

 “How could I allow my soldiers to sail on this disloyal and cruel sea?” These words, attributed to the most powerful caliph of medieval Islam, Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634–644), have led to a misunderstanding in the West about the importance of the Mediterranean to early Islam. This body of water, known in Late Antiquity as the Sea of the Romans, was critical to establishing the kingdom of the caliphs and for introducing the new religion to Europe and Africa. Over time, it also became a pathway to commercial and political dominion, indispensable to the prosperity and influence of the Islamic world. Sea of the Caliphs returns Muslim sailors to their place of prominence in the history of the Islamic caliphate.

As early as the seventh century, Muslim sailors competed with Greek and Latin seamen for control of this far-flung route of passage. Christophe Picard recreates these adventures as they were communicated to admiring Muslims by their rulers. After the Arab conquest of southern Europe and North Africa, Muslims began to speak of the Mediterranean in their strategic visions, business practices, and notions of nature and the state. Jurists and ideologues conceived of the sea as a conduit for jihad, even as Muslims’ maritime trade with Latin, Byzantine, and Berber societies increased.

In the thirteenth century, Christian powers took over Mediterranean trade routes, but by that time a Muslim identity that operated both within and in opposition to Europe had been shaped by encounters across the sea of the caliphs.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Ma and Li, “Surviving the State”

9781532634604Christianity is enduring a rough period in the West. But, as many commentators have pointed out, the religion is booming in Africa and Asia. And, in Asia, China provides an excellent example of the growth of Christianity. According to some estimates, by the middle of this century, China will have the world’s largest Christian community. The rise of Chinese Christianity will no doubt affect the course of the religion in ways none of us can now imagine.

A new book from Wipf and Stock, Surviving the State, Remaking the Church: A Sociological Portrait of Christians in Mainland China, by Li Ma and Jin Li, both of Calvin College, documents some of the changes. Here is the publisher’s description:

This sociological portrait presents how Chinese Christians have coped with life under a hostile regime over a span of different historical periods, and how Christian churches as collective entities have been reshaped by ripples of social change. China’s change from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, or from an agrarian society to an urbanizing society, are admittedly significant phenomena worthy of scholarly attention, but real changes are about values and beliefs that give rise to social structures over time. The growth of Christianity has become interwoven with the disintegration or emergence of Chinese cultural beliefs, political ideologies, and commercial values.

Relying mainly on an oral history method for data collection, the authors allow the narratives of Chinese Christians to speak for themselves. Identifying the formative cultural elements, a sociohistorical analysis also helps to lay out a coherent understanding of the complexity of religious experiences for Christians in the Chinese world. This book also serves to bring back scholarly discussions on the habits of the heart as the condition that helps form identities and nurture social morality, whether individuals engage in private or public affairs.

Merry Christmas!

To all of our readers, Mark and I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Stauffer, “Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light”

“The finall Cause, End, or Designe of men, (who naturally love Liberty, and Dominion over others,) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, (in which we see them live in Common-wealths,) is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of Warre…” (Leviathan II.17) Next year marks the 340th anniversary of the death of Thomas Hobbes, for my money one of the most brilliant theorists of the liberal state and most insightful writers on any number of subjects (political authority, human nature, ethics, you name it) that ever lived. All this, for me, is true, even as I part ways with Hobbes on many matters. Still, if at some future point I ever do get around to putting together a seminar on foundations of legal rights, Hobbes will hold a central place in the reading list. Here is a new book published by Chicago focusing on Hobbes’s criticisms of the classical tradition: Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light: A Study of the Foundations of Modern Political Philosophy, by Devin Stauffer.

Was Hobbes the first great architect of modern political philosophy? Highly critical of the classical tradition in philosophy, particularly Aristotle, Hobbes thought that he had established a new science of morality and politics. Devin Stauffer here delves into Hobbes’s critique of the classical tradition, making this oft-neglected aspect of the philosopher’s thought the basis of a new, comprehensive interpretation of his political philosophy.

In Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light, Stauffer argues that Hobbes was engaged in a struggle on multiple fronts against forces, both philosophic and religious, that he thought had long distorted philosophy and destroyed the prospects of a lasting peace in politics. By exploring the twists and turns of Hobbes’s arguments, not only in his famous Leviathan but throughout his corpus, Stauffer uncovers the details of Hobbes’s critique of an older outlook, rooted in classical philosophy and Christian theology, and reveals the complexity of Hobbes’s war against the “Kingdom of Darkness.” He also describes the key features of the new outlook—the “Kingdom of Light” —that Hobbes sought to put in its place. Hobbes’s venture helped to prepare the way for the later emergence of modern liberalism and modern secularism. Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light is a wide-ranging and ambitious exploration of Hobbes’s thought.

Miano, “Fortuna: Deity and Concept in Archaic and Republican Italy”

Several years ago, I had the chance to study the great Renaissance republican writing of FortunaMachiavelli and Guicciardini. In both, and particularly in Machiavelli, the goddess, “Fortuna,” plays a central role. Fortuna is usually portrayed as unpredictably destructive or generative of political arrangements, a fickle and dangerous being. The object of the good republican politician, the politician who acts with virtù, is to tame the goddess in the service of republican ideals. But Fortuna is a pagan deity of much older lineage than the Renaissance, a deity of ancient and republican Rome as this new book published by Oxford attests: Fortuna: Deity and Concept in Archaic and Republican Italy, by Daniele Miano.

What is good luck and what did it mean to the Romans? What connections were there between luck and childbirth, victory in war, or success in business? What did Roman statesmen like Cicero and Caesar think about luck? This volume aims to address these questions by focusing on the Latin goddess Fortuna, one of the better known deities in ancient Italy. The earliest forms of her worship can be traced back to archaic Latium, and though the chronological scope of the discussion presented here covers the archaic age to the late Republic, she was still a widely recognized allegorical figure during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

The primary reason for Fortuna’s longevity is that she was a conceptual deity, symbiotically connected to the concept of chance and good fortune. When communities, individuals, and social groups interacted with the goddess, they were inevitably also interacting with the concept: renegotiating it, enriching it with new meanings, and challenging established associations. All the available literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources on Fortuna are explored here in depth, including analyses of all the attested sanctuaries of the goddess in Italy, an updated study of inscribed gifts offered to her by a variety of individuals, and discussion of how authors such as Cicero and Caesar wrote about Fortuna, chance, and good luck. This study of the goddess based on conceptual analysis serves to construct a radically new picture of the historical development of this deity in the context of the cultural interactions taking place in ancient Italy, and also suggests a new approach to polytheism based on an exploration of the connection between gods and goddesses and concepts.